Q&A: Watchdog for U.S. bomb-sniffing dogs
Q: Why does the United States train dogs for diplomatic service overseas?
A: The Explosive Detection Canine Program (EDCP) has operated for more than two decades under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to assist foreign countries and our international law enforcement partners with counterterrorism operations. Congress created the antiterrorism assistance program to provide training, equipment and supplies for bomb detection and disposal to strengthen diplomatic ties and stop transnational threats before reaching the U.S. homeland. For years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) trained dogs for this counterterrorism program. The State Department recently began its own training center to prepare dogs for placement overseas. These bomb-sniffing dogs are trained here in the United States and assigned to allied nations partnering with the U.S. to fight terrorism. Currently, 100 dogs trained by the State Department are assigned to six partnering countries. About 70 dogs from the ATF program are active in seven nations. A recent investigation by the Office of Inspector General (IG) of the State Department checked into a complaint left on its whistleblower tip line about the mistreatment of dogs deployed in the EDCP. The IG report confirmed disturbing allegations of negligence and substandard care for many of these canines after they are placed into service overseas. It documented inadequate nutrition, lack of veterinary care and poor living conditions that led to undernourished animals and canine deaths. The IG report outlined systemic flaws, including mismanagement of hundreds of thousands of tax dollars and mistreatment of U.S.-trained dogs. According to the IG, the State Department routinely provided dogs to foreign partners without any signed, written agreements to ensure proper care and accountability. It also identified inadequate and infrequent, on-site check-ups after their deployment. The IG outlined specific concerns with the canine program in the Kingdom of Jordan that have persisted for years, including the deaths of at least 10 dogs from 2008 to 2016. What’s more, insufficient protocols were in place for the retirement and adoption of dogs at age nine years. After reviewing the report, I wrote Secretary Mike Pompeo to request a briefing and asked questions about the State Department’s efforts to address concerns raised in the IG report. I expect follow-up answers by the first of October.
Q: What prompted your oversight inquiry of the canine counterterrorism program?
A: Throughout my public service, I have placed a high priority on congressional oversight. Transparency brings accountability. Without oversight, wrongdoing blooms and fraud festers. Don’t forget, Congress holds the power of the purse. Lawmakers aren’t elected to tax and spend willy-nilly. The way I see it, a fundamental constitutional responsibility of each and every lawmaker is keeping track of every dime that flows out of the federal treasury—as well as keeping check of tax breaks that divert revenue from the public purse—to ensure tax policy is working as intended. Much of my oversight work is prompted by whistleblowers who contact my Senate office to report waste, fraud and abuse. That’s why I’ve championed whistleblower protections to empower citizens to come forward with the truth without fear of retribution in their jobs, paychecks and careers. In this case, a tipster called into a whistleblower hotline to report the State Department was mismanaging its canine counterterrorism program and putting the health and welfare of U.S.-trained, bomb-sniffing dogs at risk. In addition to humanitarian concerns for the proper care of these animals, I want to ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t squandered and the mission of this program—to detect explosives and deter terrorism—is carried out effectively and efficiently. The IG report documented untreated medical problems, including hip dysplasia and arthritis, inadequate shelter, poor sanitation conditions, and overworked canines who have lost the will to work. As Iowa’s watchdog for good government, I’ve got my teeth sunk into another bone of bureaucratic mismanagement. Canines in service to the U.S. government on behalf of the American people should not be underfed, overworked and forgotten once they are sent to foreign nations. As an Iowa farmer, I tended the health and welfare of livestock for decades on our family farm. As a U.S. Senator, it’s my responsibility to ensure good fiscal stewardship of tax dollars. In this case, that also means making sure these canines are being treated according to the humane and ethical standards the American people undoubtedly expect. That’s why I’m tightening my oversight leash. Americans aren’t paying taxes to let the State Department mismanage a counterterrorism program that results in sick and starving U.S. service dogs. Not on my watch.